Jay, welcome to the world of firearms and this forum.
First, congratulations on making the decision to seriously take defense of yourself and your family into your own hands. "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away."
The concept of self defense is not to kill an attacker, but to stop their behavior. If that can be done by merely drawing a firearm, that is a win-win, but a firearm is deadly force, and should never be displayed with the intent to frighten anyone. If it takes one shot, or 10 shots to defend yourself, that is what it is. The number of shots you must fire is not necessarily up to you, but is up to your attacker.
Forget everything you have learned about guns from TV shows and the movies. It is all wrong.
(An exception can be made for some of the self defense programming available on cable and satellite TV. Some of those can be very instructive.)
It can be said, being new to guns, that you don't know what you don't know
. What did you have in mind? A handgun, rifle, shotgun, or do you know exactly? If being used primarily for home defense in an urban area, I would recommend either a handgun or shotgun. Most rifles can over-penetrate and unintentionally take out a neighbor.
With handguns, there are many, many makes and models to choose from, but the basic platforms, or operating systems, are revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. Each of those platforms have what can be called sub-platforms. Handguns have the advantage of being small and maneuverable, but less powerful. Semi-automatic pistols usually have more shots available for defense than revolvers or shotguns, so they compensate for being less powerful. (Although there are some major caliber revolvers with 7 or 8 shots capability.) Some well known firearms instructors like to say that a pistol is only good for fighting your way to your long guns.
Most folks will agree that a pump action or semi-automatic shotgun, when loaded with proper ammunition, can be the most devastating home defense weapon. The obvious drawback with shotguns are their size. They are somewhat more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Their size is controlled by state and federal law.
Some folks will recommend a certain brand and model they like, but keep in mind, what works for one person, will not necessarily work for you
. Some will insist that only the latest "Whiz-Bang model X-1
" is the absolute best gun in the world, and others will disagree and recommend a gun they prefer. It can be rather overwhelming to someone new to the gun world.
Another major decision in selecting a firearm for self defense, is that of caliber. There are never-ending debates among firearms enthusiasts as to which caliber is "best." That is like the never-ending debate about which pickup truck is the "best." What works for some, won't necessarily work for others. We each develop our personal preferences in automobiles, and the same goes for firearms.
I think it can be generally said that bigger, more powerful calibers work better for defense than smaller varieties. Because of my background as a military and police instructor, homicide investigator and private contractor, I prefer .45 caliber semi-automatic pistols. I also like the .40 caliber weapons. In my opinion
the minimum caliber adequate for self defense is the .38 special +P revolver, or the 9mm semi-automatic pistol. But that's just me. Others may disagree, but my experience is in real world shootings, not theory. Having said all of that, I would not want to be shot by a .22 caliber weapon, but those are not something I would recommend as an adequate self defense weapon. Sure, the small calibers are better than nothing, but so is a sharp stick. A .22 can be deadly and in time, someone shot with one may eventually bleed-out and die, but the idea of self defense is to stop the aggression NOW
. Not eventually.
Once you have the caliber issue sorted out, think about ammunition. A firearm is only a bullet launcher. It is the bullet that does the work. Some bullets are made for practice, or competition and some is specifically designed and engineered for self defense. The self defense ammo is more expensive, but self defense is no place to go cheap. Practice with the cheaper stuff, but make sure your firearm will work with the self defense ammo too. Most major ammo makers have a line of self defense ammo, and with competition in the firearms market what it is, it is all good. I have my preferences and others have theirs. There is no "best" ammo. Likewise, despite what you may have heard, there is no such thing as a magic, one-shot-stop bullet. Once a bullet contacts the outer layer of flesh, they can do amazing acrobatics and are totally unpredictable. Most police and private instructors teach multiple shots to stop a threat. One shot stops are certainly possible, but you can't count on it.
Quality firearms are expensive, but again, self defense is no place to go cheap. The loudest sound you will ever hear in a gun fight is; "CLICK." Guns are expensive, but consider what other machine you will ever purchase that will last several generations. I own two guns that are over 100 years old and keep on tick'n.
May I recommend that you find a professional firearms trainer in your area, and invest a few dollars for an hour or two of his/her time, to explain the various options and let you handle them to see what fits you the best. Then enroll in a self defense oriented training school, which is different than a hunter safety, or concealed carry class. I also recommend that your spouse or SO, also enroll in professional training with you. Instructors can be found online, or you can get personal recommendations at local gun shops or gun clubs. Try to get personal recommendations. As with anything else, there are good insturctors, and some not-so-good.
Last, but certainly not least, make arrangements for safe and secure storage of your firearm. Get a safe designed for dry storage and quick access. Don't get some cheap, metal lock box, but a real safe. They come in various shapes and sizes. Safe storage is important if you are not carrying your firearm when you leave home. No one, police officers included, is safe from home burglaries. Don't leave your gun laying in some "secret" place. Trust me, burglars know exactly where to look for guns. With children in the home, safe storage is critical and mandatory in some states. Some pistol safes have biometric and combination locks designed to keep unauthorized folks out, but will allow you to quickly enter and arm yourself in an emergency.
I hope this has been helpful. If I have missed anything, I'm confident that some others will be able to fill in the gaps. A word of caution. Gun ownership can become a habit forming and expensive passion. I'm up to three safes full. It's like eating peanuts, once you start it is difficult to stop.
PS: Please join the NRA. Help us keep our firearms rights intact.